STRESS | The Dirty Dozen: Common human error factors in aircraft maintenance mishaps

  • Published
  • By Safety Directorate
  • Headquarters Air Education and Training Command

There are many types of stress. Typically, in the aviation environment, there are two distinct types — acute and chronic. Acute stress arises from real-time demands placed on our senses, mental processing and physical body, such as dealing with an emergency or working under time pressure with inadequate resources. Chronic stress is accumulated and results from long-term demands placed on the physiology by life’s demands, such as family relations, finances, illness, bereavement, divorce or even winning the lottery. When we suffer stress from these persistent and long-term life events, it can mean our threshold of reaction to demands and pressure at work can be lowered. Thus, at work, we may overreact inappropriately, too often and too easily.

Some early visible signs of stress include changes in personality and moods, errors of judgment, lack of concentration and poor memory. Individuals may notice difficulty in sleeping and an increase in fatigue, as well as digestive problems. Longer-term signs of stress include susceptibility to infections, increased use of stimulants and self-medication, absence from work, illness, and depression.

It is important to recognize the early signs of stress and to determine whether it is acute or chronic. Coping with daily demands at work can be achieved with simple breathing and relaxation techniques. However, perhaps more effective is having channels of communication readily available through which to discuss the issue and help to rationalize perceptions. It is entirely appropriate that some of these channels involve social interaction with peers. As with fatigue, sleep, diet and exercise are all important factors in helping to reduce stress and build resilience to stressors. If the stress is chronic, then definite lifestyle changes will be required. This must be achieved with support from the organization. Organizations should, therefore, have employee assistance (or wellbeing) policies that include stress reduction programs.

As with many of these factors, communication is key. Let your supervisor know if your personal stressors are affecting you at work. They may not be aware of how factors external to what they see when you’re at work may be adding to your total stress. It may be that certain levels of stress on the job are unavoidable, but if it’s starting to increase the risk of a mishap, you need to let someone know so adjustments can be made wherever possible.

Stress is just one of the aircraft maintenance Dirty Dozen. For the full list, click here:


NOTE: Below is a link to the Airman Safety App (ASAP), which provides Airmen the opportunity to report safety-related risks and close calls using the Airman Safety Action Report. Anyone, anywhere, with almost any device can quickly and easily report safety-related problems involving personnel, equipment or property. Remain anonymous if you wish. Reporting is the first step to obtaining a solution for improvement. Reporting is simple and only takes between 3 and 10 minutes. Click on the link below to start your report. It’s fast and easy!